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A Positive Approach

Many organizations practice a form of Progressive Discipline to manage employee behavior and performance problems. Progressive Discipline provides for a series of progressively more severe penalties for poor behavior. These penalties generally take the form of warnings, reprimands, and unpaid suspensions.

The problem with this approach is that Progressive Discipline is out of step with the needs and culture of today's organizations. Even as many organizations continue to base their policies on the principle of Progressive Discipline, managers and employees alike are dissatisfied with this approach.

Progressive Discipline was instituted in the 1930's; the result of reforms brought about by the labor movement. In the industrial economy of that time, work was largely manual labor. Organizations were structured in a rigid hierarchy, in which orders were passed from the top levels of management down through the ranks. The supervisor was the "boss" who issued orders. The employee's job was to carry out these directives without question.

At the time, Progressive Discipline helped correct for abuses on the part of employers who held absolute power over employees. It instituted a process that forced managers to warn workers when their behavior or performance was not up to standard. This process ensured the individual was given a fair chance to correct the behavior or performance first, instead of being fired with no warning.

The workplace today is dramatically different than it was then. In today's information-based economy, knowledge workers have largely replaced manual laborers and many of them know as much or more about their job than the supervisor. Instead of a system where employees take orders from the supervisor, work in contemporary organizations is increasingly performed in teams.

A Positive Alternative

Expert Supervisor is an alternative approach that focuses on coaching, individual responsibility and problem-solving. The hallmark of this approach - and the one aspect that most differentiates it from Progressive Discipline - is the fact that it is nonpunitive. Reprimands and suspensions are replaced by one or more coaching sessions. If the employee still fails to correct the situation, he or she is given a choice: abide by the organization's rules and standards or be discharged.

Following is a comparison between the traditional Progressive Discipline system and the approach provided in Expert Supervisor.

With Progressive Discipline:

  • The emphasis is on making people pay for misdeeds.
  • Employees are expected to demonstrate compliance with rules and regulations.
  • Assumes that people respond best to the threat of punishment.
  • Responsibility for correcting problem performance lies with the supervisor.
  • The supervisor's primary role is disciplinarian.
  • Corrective actions include warnings, reprimands, and suspensions
  • This approach tends to promote adversarial relationships

With Expert Supervisor:

  • The emphasis is on solving business problems.
  • Employees are expected to demonstrate a commitment to organizational values and goals.
  • Assumes people respond best to positive reinforcement.
  • Responsibility for correcting problem performance lies with the employee.
  • The supervisor's primary role is coach.
  • Corrective actions include coaching, problem-solving, and joint decision-making.
  • This approach tends to promote harmonious relationships.


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